26 March 1952
On 26 March 1952, General Walter Templer, the British High Commissioner in Malaya, informed three hundred leading members of the Malayan, Chinese and Indian communities of Tanjong Malim that the entire town’s population of five thousand was to be subjected to a harsh collective punishment for an indefinite period. It followed an ambush at a rubber plantation outside the town, in which ten police officers, an engineer and the assistant district officer were killed.1
Templer suspected that the town’s inhabitants were either too sympathetic towards or too afraid of the communist insurgents. Only three people had dared to disclose information about rebel positions or movements. Some encouragement was thought necessary and measures were taken to ensure the town was more afraid of official collective punishment than any possible communist reprisal.2 According to a Reuters report, the general informed the community leaders that they and their fellow residents ‘were too cowardly to give information which they had about the terrorists’ and that he had therefore ordered a series of severe punishment measures including a sharp cut in the rice ration, the closure of all schools, the suspension of bus services and closure of shops for all but two hours a day, alongside a 22 hour curfew to be strictly enforced by troops and police. Furthermore no civilian was to be allowed to leave the town.3
British newspapers praised the general’s action. Typically, the Dundee Courier declared that ‘the time for half measures in Malaya has long past’ and ‘there is ample justification, therefore, for the firm action of General Templer… in ordering the collective punishment of the town…. Benevolent sympathy with civilian difficulties can be carried too far. The time had to come when towns and villages had to be taught that if they acquiesced in terrorism (presumably including allowing themselves to be intimidated) they would not get away with it. Tanjong Malim was due such a lesson.’4
The response of the local population, according to a report in the Derry Journal, was one of total silence and ‘people in the street glowered at British officials as they left the hall after the general’s announcement.’5 Templer was not discouraged. He implemented all the measures including the cut in rice rations, despite a warning from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that they were ‘bound to result in an increase, not only of sickness, but also of deaths, particularly among the mothers and very young children.’6
- Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane, 2007 London p. 525, ‘Malayan Town Punished’, The Times, 28 March 1952 p. 5, ‘Tanjong Malim Punishment’, The Aberdeen Evening Express, 27 March 1952, p. 5, ‘Wooden Horse Hero Murdered,’ The Aberdeen Evening Express, 25 March 1952, p. 1, ‘Rations Cut and Curfew in Pro-Red Villages,’ The Yorkshire Post, 28 March 1952 p. 1 and ’12 Die in Malaya’s Worst Outrage’, The Belfast Telegraph, 25 March 1952, p. 1.
- ‘Malayan Town Punished,’ The Times, 28 March 1952 p. 5, ‘Tanjong Malim Punishment’, The Aberdeen Evening Express, 27 March 1952, p. 5, ‘Rations Cut and Curfew in Pro-Red Villages,’ The Yorkshire Post, 28 March 1952 p. 1 and ’22 Hour Curfew for Malay Villagers; They won’t Cooperate with British,’ the Derry Journal, 28 March 1952, p. 1.
- ‘Fight Against Terrorism’, The Dundee Courier, 29 March 1952, p. 2.
- 22 Hour Curfew for Malay Villagers; They won’t Cooperate with British,’ the Derry Journal, 28 March 1952, p. 1.
- Simon Webb, British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900 – 1975, Pen and Sword History, Barnsley, 2016, p. 143.
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